AN INTRODUCTION to myself and my wine postcards: Following my first visit and taste of Northern California wine country in the 1960s, collecting and studying the history of this exciting new world fast became an absorbing passion. Vacations took my husband and me on visits to most of the wineries all over the state, gathering winery-offered brochures, wine labels, postcards. Searching the “old postcard” stalls at statewide Paper & Ephemera Fairs taught me early on the rare historical value of vintage California wine postcards. Today the collection has some 2200 cataloged postcards, acknowledged the largest in the world. These invaluable treasures will one day proudly reside at UC Davis-Special Collections. But until that time, it will be a great pleasure to share a monthly postcard story of California’s wine history

The San Gabriel Trinity Grape Vine & Kate C. Bayly Mccormick :
A Wine Postcard Mystery Solved

 MISSION SAN GABRIEL, the 4th mission established in the chain of California’s twenty-one Franciscan Missions, was founded in 1771 near what would become Los Angeles pueblo. By the 1820s San Gabriel Mission had the largest vineyard in Alta California and the padres there annually produced some 500 barrels of wine and 200 of brandy. As the viña madre, the Mission vineyard provided the cuttings for the extensive vineyards planted in the area during the 1840s and ‘50s. Our famous San Gabriel giant vine can trace its heritage to pre-Mission days c1765.

Mother Grapevine

San Gabriel Mission. Oldest and Largest Grape Vine in America — “covering over 5000 sq.ft. and over five feet in circumference.”

wine cellar with barrels of wine

A 1970s postcard preserves a very rare view of the Padres’ Wine Cellar at San Gabriel Mission. Scattered around the original floor are  winemaking equipment commonly used in the Missions. While there are many postcards scenes  of the old Missions themselves, there are very few views of the cellars or vineyards.

There is an old turn-of-the-century postcard in my California Mission postcards that had intrigued me for many years. Pictured on this card, seated at one of the tables under the shade of the sprawling world-famous monster grape vine at San Gabriel, is a gracious and rather patrician woman in her maturing age, a “Mrs. Kate C. Bailey [sic] McCormick – Owner of the Old Grapevine (Planted 1765), San Gabriel, California.” I have often puzzled: Who was Mrs. McCormick?

woman sitting under a world-famous grapevine

Mrs. Kate Bayly McCormick relaxes under her world-famous grapevine c1906. A sign at the gated entrance hailed the ‘Oldest & Largest Grape Vine in the World’ was to be seen inside. Admission to the grounds cost 10¢ and “Legend of the Vine” booklets were advertised for purchase. Once inside ‘Grape Juice from This Vine’ was offered from two large urns, inviting guests to sample and refresh themselves in the shade of the vine.

little boy under tree

This popular postcard captioned “Under the Old Grape Vine at San Gabriel” was copyrighted in 1905 by Wm T. McCormick, son of Kate McCormick. It dramatically shows  its three-vines-in-one mammoth structure. In 1908 author Frances Fox used the image an illustration in her charming Carlota. A Story of the San Gabriel Mission. She called the little boy Jimmy.

Finding a small 16-page booklet published in 1902, Trinity Grape Vine of San Gabriel and California Missions written by Kate C. Bayly McCormick, was an exciting first piece to the mystery. Tracked down at the Huntington Library, not far from San Gabriel in Southern California, a photocopy was obtained from their Rare Books Collection.

Without any personal introduction, Mrs. McCormick begins her narrative: “Just one block from the mission church, in the ‘patio’ of the San Gabriel adobe hotel, stands the largest grape vine in the world.” She boasts of its mammoth dimensions, “covering over 5000 sq.ft. and over five feet in circumference — composed of one root and three branches” and reminds us, that “according to General Vallejo, it was in the early days known as ‘El Paron de la Trinidad’ (Trinity Vine—three in one).” She reassures all readers that “the grapes make excellent medicinal wine and the best jelly. The leaves, some 12 inches across, are used by the natives for fevers and headaches.” As to its age, she testifies, “General Vallejo, when visiting San Gabriel about sixteen years ago [1886], said it was here fifty-seven years before that time [1829], and that he had seen Indians weaving blankets and baskets under its shade.” Several other postcards in the collection show a painted wooden sign attached to the vine—undoubtedly for the benefit of the “thousands of annual tourists.” This sign variably declares the vine was first planted in 1775 and owned by the church, or then again, 1765, or in 1771 when Mission San Gabriel was founded. Alas, Mrs. McCormick writes less than two pages on the vine and the mission, then continues her story with illustrated short histories of several other missions, concluding with a poem “A Legend of the San Gabriel Mission Bells.” A nice little pamphlet, surely produced to promote “one of the show places of Los Angeles County.” I was the lone reader hoping for personal biographical information.

A persistent online search turned fruitful. The 1889 Illustrated History of Los Angeles Co. carried a lengthy sketch of a Robert J. Bayly. Born in Canada in 1837, young Robert accompanied his father in 1852 to California seeking the gold fields. After several years of success, he left the mines and began a life of farming, cattle-raising, and fruit culture on his 250-acre ranch of prime land in the San Gabriel Valley foothills. In 1881 he sold it to purchase the San Gabriel Hotel property near the Mission. He “enlarged the hotel building, fitted up a billiard room, bar & amenities, and installed a commodious hall on the second floor.” A genial host, his hotel was immediately popular and well patronized. He invested in property throughout the County and became a respected leader of the community. In conclusion, the article noted: “His widowed sister, Mrs. Kate C. McCormick, is living with him.”

In 1907 James Guinn published his History of California & Its Southern Coast Counties. With Biographies of Its Well-Known Citizens. He included a very complimentary, but sketchy, biography of Mrs. Kate C. McCormick, “a most estimable lady,” who was born c1846 near Toronto, Canada, and came to America with her parents when she was three. Guinn relates that her father, John P. Bayly, settled the family in Wisconsin, from where he and son Robert made their above noted journey to California in 1852: Robert to become a wealthy Californian, his father killed in 1858 by Indians while with a government survey party. Next we read that in 1870 Kate Bayly married Joseph T. McCormick, a native New Yorker, who went to Chicago in 1869 and soon founded Gindele & McCormick Job Printing.  In 1879, his health failing, he left Kate and their three young sons at home in Chicago while he sought treatment in Colorado. He died the following year.

Kate’s brother Robert Bayly, some ten to twelve years her elder, made his home in San Gabriel until 1884, when he returned to Chicago, the family home, for a visit. On account of his worsening health, he brought back to San Gabriel his sister Kate C. McCormick and her three sons. This enterprising lady soon developed real estate interests throughout the San Gabriel Valley. When her brother died in 1895, she became the proprietor of the well-known property. Historian Guinn concludes: “She is a woman of rare worth, intelligent, and educated, and qualities of heart equal to those of mind. To know her is to hold her in highest esteem.” Mrs. McCormick, a grand lady, keeper of the giant grape vine, died in Los Angeles in 1914, age 68. What a pleasure to know her.